Margery shook her head, sucking in her breath. "When I think of all those fine young men," she murmured. "Heaven only knows what happened to them!"
"You," Jonathan accused, "have been reading that columnist--what's-his-name? The one that's been writing such claptrap ever since Easton brought the Rhinestead back alone."
"Cuddlehorn," said his wife. "Roger Cuddlehorn, and it's not claptrap."
"The other members of the crew are all alive, all--"
"I suppose Easton told you that?" she interrupted.
"Yes, he did."
"Using double-talk, of course," said his wife triumphantly. At the look on Jonathan's face, she stood up in guilty haste. "All right, I'll go!" She blew him a kiss from the door. "Richie and I are having lunch at one. Okay? Or would you rather have a tray in here?"
"Tray," he said, turning back to his desk and his coffee. "No, on second thought, call me when lunch is ready. I'll need a break."
He was barely conscious of the closing of the door as Margery left the room. Naturally he didn't take her remarks seriously, but-- He opened the folder of pictures and studied them again, along with the interpretations by Psych, Stoughton, Ramirez and himself.
Easton had drawn the little stick figures on the first day of his return. The interpretations all checked--and they had been done independently, too. There it is, thought Jonathan. Easton lands the Rhinestead. He and the others meet the Martians. They are impressed by the Martians. The others stay on Mars. Easton returns to Earth, bearing a message.
Question: What is the message?
Teeth set, Jonathan put away the pictures and went back to the tape on the recorder. "Yes," said his own voice, in answer to Easton's outburst. "I do--er--blikkel English. But tell me, Mr. Easton, do you understand me?"
"Under-stand?" The man seemed to have difficulty forming the word. "You mean--" Pause. "Dr. Blair, I murv you. Is that it?"
"Murv," repeated Jonathan. "All right, you murv me. Do you murv this? I do not always murv what you say."
A laugh. "Of course not. How could you?" Suppressed groan. "Carooms," Easton had murmured, almost inaudibly. "Just when I almost murv, the kwakut goes freeble."
Jonathan flipped the switch on the machine. "Murv" he wrote on his pad of paper. He added "Blikkel," "Carooms" and "Freeble." He stared at the list. He should understand, he thought. At times it seemed as if he did and then, in the next instant, he was lost again, and Easton was angry, and they had to start all over again.
Sighing, he took out more papers, notes from previous sessions, both with himself and with other linguists. The difficulty of reaching Easton was unlike anything he had ever before tackled. The six months of Navajo had been rough going, but he had done it, and done it well enough to earn the praise of Old Comas, his informant. Surely, he thought, after mastering a language like that, one in which the student must not only learn to imitate difficult sounds, but also learn a whole new pattern of thought-- Pattern of thought. Jonathan sat very still, as though movement would send the fleeting clue back into the corner from which his mind had glimpsed it.
A whole new frame of reference. Suppose, he toyed with the thought, suppose the Martian language, whatever it was, was structured along the lines of Navajo, involving clearly defined categories which did not exist in English.
"Murv," he said aloud. "I murv a lesson, but I blikkel a language."
Eagerly, Jonathan reached again for the switch. Categories clearly defined, yes! But the categories of the Martian language were not those of the concrete or the particular, like the Navajo. They were of the abstract. Where one word "understand" would do in English, the Martian used two-- Good Lord, he realized, they might use hundreds! They might-- Jonathan turned on the machine, sat back and made notes, letting the recorder run uninterrupted. He made his notes, this time, on the feelings he received from the words Easton used. When the first tape was done, he put on the second.
Margery tapped at the door just as the third tape was ending. "In a minute," he called, scribbling furiously. He turned off the machine, put out his cigarette and went to lunch, feeling better than he had in weeks.
Richie was at the kitchen sink, washing his hands.
"And next time," Margery was saying, "you wash up before you sit down."
Richie blinked and watched Jonathan seat himself. "Daddy didn't wash his hands," he said.
Margery fixed the six-year-old with a stern eye. "Richard, don't be rude."
"Well, he didn't." Richie sat down and reached for his glass of milk.
"Daddy probably washed before he came in," said Margery. She took the cover off a tureen, ladled soup into bowls and passed sandwiches, pretending not to see the ink-stained hand Jonathan was hiding in his lap.
Jonathan, elated by the promise of success, ate three or four sandwiches, had two bowls of soup and finally sat back while Margery went to get coffee.
Richie slid part way off his chair, remembered, and slid back on again. "Kin I go?" he asked.
"Please may I be excused," corrected his father.
Richie repeated, received a nod and ran out of the dinette and through the kitchen, grabbing a handful of cookies on the way. The screen door banged behind him as he raced into the backyard.
"Richie!" Margery started after him, eyes ablaze. Then she stopped and came back to the table with the coffee. "That boy! How long does it take before they get to be civilized?" Jonathan laughed. "Oh, sure," she went on, sitting down opposite him. "It's funny to you. But if you were here all day long--" She stirred sugar into her cup. "We should have sent him to camp, even if it would have wrecked the budget!"
"Oh? Is it that bad?"
Margery shuddered. "Sometimes he's a perfect angel, and then--It's unbelievable, the things that child can think of! Sometimes I'm convinced children are another species altogether! Why, only this morning--"
"Well," Jonathan broke in, "next summer he goes to camp." He stood up and stretched.
Margery said wistfully, "I suppose you want to get back to work."
"Ummmm." Jonathan leaned over and kissed her briefly. "I've got a new line of attack," he said, picking up his coffee. He patted his wife's shoulder. "If things work out well, we might get away on that vacation sooner than we thought."
"Really?" she asked, brightening.
"Really." He left the table and went back to his den.
Putting the next tape on the machine, he settled down to his job. Time passed and finally there were no more tapes to listen to.
He stacked his notes and began making lists, checking through the sheets of paper for repetitions of words Easton had used, listing the various connotations which had occurred to Jonathan while he had listened to the tapes.
As he worked, he was struck by the similarity of the words he was recording to the occasional bits of double-talk he had heard used by comedians in theaters and on the air, and he allowed his mind to wander a bit, exploring the possibilities.
Was Martian actually such a close relative to English? Or had the Martians learned English from Easton, and had Easton then formed a sort of pidgin-English-Martian of his own?
Jonathan found it difficult to believe in the coincidence of the two languages being alike, unless-- He laughed. Unless, of course, Earthmen were descended from Martians, or vice versa. Oh, well, not my problem, he thought jauntily.
He stared at the list before him and then he started to swear, softly at first, then louder. But no matter how loudly he swore, the list remained undeniably and obstinately the same: Freeble--Displeasure (Tape 3) Freeble--Elation (Tape 4) Freeble--Grief (Tape 5) "How," he asked the empty room, "can a word mean grief and elation at the same time?"
Jonathan sat for a few moments in silence, thinking back to the start of the sessions with Easton. Ramirez and Stoughton had both agreed with him that Easton's speech was phonemically identical to English. Jonathan's trained ear remembered the pronunciation of "Freeble" in the three different connotations and he forced himself to admit it was the same on all three tapes in question.
Stuck again, he thought gloomily.
He lit a cigarette and stared at the ceiling. It was like saying the word "die" meant something happy and something sad at one and the same, like saying-- Jonathan pursed his lips. Yes, it could be. If someone were in terrible pain, death, while a thing of sorrow, could also mean release from suffering and so become a thing of joy. Or it could mean sorrow to one person and relief to another. In that case, what he was dealing with here was not only-- The crash of the ball, as it sailed through the window behind his desk, lifted Jonathan right from his chair. Furious, his elusive clue shattered as surely as the pane of glass, he strode to the window.
His son, almost hidden behind the lilac bush, did not answer.
"I see you!" Jonathan bellowed. "Come here!"
The bush stirred slightly and Richie peeped through the leaves. "Did you call me, Daddy?" he asked politely.
Jonathan clamped his lips shut and pointed to the den. Richie tried a smile as he sidled around the bush, around his father, and into the house.
"My," he marveled, looking at the broken glass on the floor inside. "My goodness!" He sat down in the leather chair to which Jonathan motioned.
"Richie," said his father, when he could trust his voice again, "how did it happen?"
His son's thin legs, brown and wiry, stuck out straight from the depths of the chair. There was a long scratch on one calf and numerous black-and-blue spots around both knees.
"I dunno," said Richie. He blinked his eyes, deeper blue than Margery's, and reached up one hand to push away the mass of blond hair tumbling over his forehead. He was obviously trying hard to pretend he wasn't in the room at all.
Jonathan said, "Now, son, that is not a good answer. What were you doing when the ball went through the window?"
"Watching," said Richie truthfully.
"How did it go through the window?"
Jonathan found his teeth were clamped. No wonder he couldn't decode Easton's speech--he couldn't even talk with his own son!
"I mean," he explained, his patience wavering, "you threw the ball so that it broke the window, didn't you?"
"I didn't mean it to," said Richie.
"All right. That's what I wanted to know." He started on a lecture about respect for other people's property, while Richie sat and looked blankly respectful. "And so," he heard himself conclude, "I hope we'll be more careful in the future."
"Yes," said Richie.
A vague memory came to Jonathan and he sat and studied his son, remembering him when he was younger and first starting to talk. He recalled the time Richie, age three, had come bustling up to him. "Vransh!" the child had pleaded, tugging at his father's hand. Jonathan had gone outside with him to see a baby bird which had fallen from its nest. "Vransh!" Richie had crowed, exhibiting his find. "Vransh!"
"Do I get my spanking now?" asked Richie from the chair. His eyes were wide and watchful.
Jonathan tore his mind from still another recollection: the old joke about the man and woman who adopted a day-old French infant and then studied French so they would be able to understand their child when he began to talk. Maybe, thought Jonathan, it's no joke. Maybe there is a language-- "Spanking?" he repeated absentmindedly. He took a fresh pencil and pad of paper. "How would you like to help with something, Richie?"
The blue eyes watched carefully. "Before you spank me or after?"
"No spanking." Jonathan glanced at the Easton notes, vaguely aware that Richie had suddenly relaxed. "What I'm going to do," he went on, "is say some words. It'll be a kind of game. I'll say a word and then you say a word. You say the first word you think after you hear my word. Okay?" He cleared his throat. "Okay! The first word is--house."
"Bird," said Jonathan.
"Uh--tree." Richie scratched his nose and stifled a yawn.
Disappointed, Jonathan reminded himself that Richie at six could not be expected to remember something he had said when he was three. "Dog."
"Biffy." Richie sat up straight. "Daddy, did you know Biffy had puppies? Steve's mother showed me. Biffy had four puppies, Daddy. Four!"
Jonathan nodded. He supposed Richie's next statement would be an appeal to go next door and negotiate for one of the pups, and he hurried on with, "Carooms."
"Friends," said Richie, eyes still shining. "Daddy, do you suppose we could have a pup--" He broke off at the look on Jonathan's face. "Huh?"
"Friends," repeated Jonathan, writing the word slowly and unsteadily. "Uh--vacation."
"Beach," said Richie cautiously, still looking scared.
Jonathan went on with more familiar terms and Richie slowly relaxed again in the big chair. From somewhere in the back of his mind, Jonathan heard Margery say, "Sometimes I think they're a different species altogether." He kept his voice low and casual, uncertain of what he was thinking, but aware of the fact that Richie was hiding something. The little mantel clock ticked drowsily, and Richie began to look sleepy and bored as they went through things like "car" and "school" and "book." Then-- "Friend," said Jonathan.
"Allavarg," yawned Richie. "No!" He snapped to, alert and wary. "I mean Steve."
His father looked up sharply. "What's that?"
"What?" asked Richie.
"Richie," said Jonathan, "what's a Caroom?"
The boy shrugged and muttered, "I dunno."
"Oh, yes, you do!" Jonathan lit a cigarette. "What's an Allavarg?" He watched the boy bite his lips and stare out the window. "He's a friend, isn't he?" coaxed Jonathan. "Your friend? Does he play with you?"
The blond head nodded slowly and uncertainly.
"Where does he live?" persisted Jonathan. "Does he come over here and play in your yard? Does he, Richie?"
The boy stared at his father, worried and unhappy. "Sometimes," he whispered. "Sometimes he does, if I call him."
"How do you call him?" asked Jonathan. He was beginning to feel foolish.
"Why," said Richie, "I just say 'Here, Allavarg!' and he comes, if he's not too busy."
"What keeps him busy?" Such nonsense! Allavarg was undoubtedly an imaginary playmate. This whole hunch of his was utter nonsense. He should be at work on Easton instead of-- "The nursery keeps him busy," said Richie. "Real busy."